The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust, showing part of the garden building designed by architect Giles Jollands with Sam Ogilvie

The 5 huge garden trends we’re expecting to see at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Maybe you’ve managed to bag a ticket for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024. Or, like many of us, are are poised to series-link every last bit of TV coverage from what is arguably the biggest garden event of the year.

Either way, you’re no doubt excited to get your fix of beautifully designed gardens and impressive plants. So much so that you’re after a sneak preview. If so, you’re in the right place.

Recently named the world’s fifth-most popular ‘must-see’ travel experience in a study based on Google data by luxury travel company Kuoni, the quintessentially British event is a huge draw. Its opening day attracts more celebrities than a film premier, not to mention the most senior members of the Royal Family – King Charles III and Queen Camilla were in attendance in 2023, and Catherine, Princess of Wales, has previously co-designed one of the gardens.

So what should we expect to see at the 2024 edition of the show? As the gardens are famously constructed on site at the Royal Hospital Chelsea just days before the event, we can’t be 100% sure. But we have been lucky enough to get some early impressions from key exhibitors, and can reveal some of the themes that we think will be influencing our own gardens through 2024 and beyond.

1. Flood-resilient landscaping

While drought resistance has been a recurring theme of Chelsea in recent years, at least one garden at this year’s show will deal with an issue at the other end of the spectrum – flooding.

The Flood Resilient Garden has been created by Flood Re, a joint initiative between the UK government and the insurance industry, in collaboration with award-winning garden designer Naomi Slade, and Dr Ed Barsley, an expert in environmental design. The garden has been carefully designed to show how people can protect their gardens against storms and learn how to increase their flood resilience from the ground up.

Sketch of the The Flood Resilient Garden, created by Flood Re for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024

“Overall, a combination of climate change, urbanisation, inadequate infrastructure, and improper garden design has resulted in an increasing problem of flood resistance and waterlogging in British gardens,” says Ed.

“The garden addresses heavy rain and flooding by making water a central feature. It slows flow with dense planting, captures water for later use, and has elevated spots for wildlife. Key features include flood barriers, and a central swale for drainage. This forms a stream, channeling rainwater into a feature pond where it can gradually soak away.”

Sustainability is emphasised by using reclaimed materials and diverse plant choices that thrive in wet conditions. These include pond and bog plants that are well adapted to varying degrees of water inundation.

“Notable plants include willow, water mint, astilbe, male fern, and lady’s smock,” adds Naomi.

2. Plot-to-plate gardening

Luxury glasshouse manufacturer Alitex is a familar face at Chelsea. This year they are returning with a walled kitchen garden, designed to inspire us to grow our own. The design features large greenhouses featuring easy-access raised beds. Outside, various cold frames will house a cornucopia of crops, and we’re also promised grow-your-own ideas for small gardens.

It’s not really surprising that The Good Life-style ‘edible landscapes’ will have an increased presence at Chelsea this year. Both the cost-of-living crisis and our desire to make environmentally friendly choices (for example, by not relying on importing fruit and vegetables from overseas) are encouraging more of us to plant vegetable patches and fruit trees.

Sketch of Alitex garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024
Sketch of Alitex garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Alitex is working with The Pig Hotel group, which have grown and nurtured all the featured plants in their kitchen gardens.

“This year’s stand design is all about providing practical inspiration for guests, demonstrating how they can make growing from plot to plate a reality at home, as well as providing plenty of inspiration for beautiful greenhouse gardens,” says Nelly Hall, brand director of Alitex.

3. Accessibility

The National Trust will have a big presence at this year’s Chelsea show for the first time in a decade. They are joining forces with Blue Diamond garden centres and multi-award winning designer Ann-Marie Powell to present the Octavia Hill show garden.

The garden is named for and celebrates the co-founder of the National Trust, who believed green spaces and gardens were vital in everyone’s life. The garden will have several themes, one of the biggest being accessibility.

Sloping paths will allow wheelchair access, while sound installations, texture and scent will offer alternative ways for those with sensory loss to experience and enjoy the space.

Front view of The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust
Computer-generated image of The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust

“Octavia Hill felt deeply that everyone’s life should be enriched by beauty. Everyone involved in this garden – our studio, the National Trust and Blue Diamond – is passionate about that too,” explains Ann-Marie.

“Most of the garden is wheelchair accessible and the paths undulate so that wheelchair users can enjoy different points of view; wheelchair paths don’t have to be flat. There are passing places on the paths and we’ve allowed spaces between some benches for visitors in a wheelchair to rest.

The Octavia Hill Garden is designed to appeal to every sense.

“The beautiful benches, by woodcarver Kate Hanrahan, are incredibly organic and tactile,” Ann-Marie continues.

“The water chutes give soothing sound (and mask any traffic noise); soundscapes by artist Justin Wiggan spill among the plantings; and of course there’ll be scented plants to add to that feeling of being part of nature.”

4. Biodiversity

Another focus of the Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust is biodiversity. It will feature some 3,600 native and non-native plants, including bold, pollinator-attracting flowers, and berries and shrubs that will act as a source of food and nesting materials for birds and mammals.

“Biodiversity isn’t a luxury – a nice-to-have – it’s the engine that produces everything that we consume,” explains Ann-Marie.

“When it’s diminished, everything loses out. Octavia Hill was a conservationist who campaigned against the destruction of the natural landscape, and if she was alive today I think she’d be alarmed by the decline in biodiversity that we’re seeing all around us. That’s why our urban community wildlife garden has biodiversity at its heart.”

Impression of the wildlife pond at The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust
Impression of the wildlife pond at The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust

The team has designed an ecosystem with high canopies and floral understories, to create a biodiverse, ecologically healthy and resilient space, that’s also looks beautiful.

“The pond will provide habitat and there’s even thatch built into the wildlife observation platform to provide shelter,” Ann-Marie adds.

“And of course there’s bold, pollinator attracting planting – a mix of natives and non-natives – throughout the site to appeal to wildlife and visitors alike.”

Take your cue from this approach and discover 10 ways to rewild your garden.

5. The RHS Plant of the Year

A highlight of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is always the unveiling of the RHS Plant of the Year. Last year’s winner was a ‘vigorous’ Agapanthus ‘Black Jack’, a drought-tolerant plant boasting huge flowerheads bustling with up to 100 florets of deep, purple-black striped blooms.

'Lauren's Grape' poppy with white aliiums at Chelsea Flower show
What will win RHS Plant of the Year at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show? Image credit: Amy Cutmore

So what will win this year? A wide variety of poppies, foxgloves, salvia, irises and lupins were all prominent at last year’s show, but will any varieties be on the shortlist? We’ll have to wait for the show later in May to find out, check back on the Good Homes site then for more coverage.